A/N: Thanks to Vykktor and mangesboy01 for reviewing the last chapter! The support is appreciated :)
I hope you all enjoy reading today's chapter :)
POV: Alec Flood (18), Male Tribute, District 4
7.35 pm, Sunday 21st July (Day 1 of the Games), year of the 67th Hunger Games
Gabriel is the first to break into a run, charging the thirty yards to the opening of the tunnel, disappearing into the dark. In the half-light of the fading evening I only caught a quick glimpse of the girl we've found, but I think she's from District 5. She seemed the right build for her, anyway. I couldn't really tell much else.
I set off at a sprint with Vincent towards the tunnel, my machete drawn before we arrive. Looking down the tunnel as we enter it, it's cramped in comparison to most and running slightly uphill. I set off down the path at a jog to avoid tripping up on the rough, rocky floor - a luxury that the girl ahead of us cannot afford. She is literally running for her life.
I continue for a minute at most down a path that Vincent lights up ahead of me with his torch before we reach the girl, who Gabriel has caught up with and thrown to the floor. He stands in the centre of the narrow passageway, our victim lying on her side against the jagged stone walls at his feet. It turns out that it is the girl from District 5, whose name eludes me. She never amounted to much, from the reapings to the opening ceremonies, the training scores to the interviews. To me, it is little surprise that she will meet her demise on the first day of the Hunger Games.
Looking down at the girl, I can already see the damage that Gabriel has caused her, even without needing a weapon, as she whimpers in pain on the floor in front of us. Vincent and I stand imperiously over Gabriel's shoulders, terrifying the girl as she looks up at us. I'm expecting to see fear in her eyes, but although it is there, another emotion stands out more prominently upon her face. Not exactly defiance, but more the understanding that the game is up for her. That no amount of pleading will spare her now. After all, the Careers aren't exactly known for their compassion.
For a few quiet moments, the three of us just stand over the girl as she struggles to get to her feet. She looks up and I notice cuts above her eyebrows, her cheeks streaked with red. Dirt built up around her chin and staining what was just twelve hours before a pristine white jumpsuit. Half a day in the arena, and wouldn't you know it. Even without doing much, I can see that looking around at my allies, we've taken something of a hit, too.
At some point, Gabriel decides that we've wasted enough time with the girl, grabbing the front of her shirt, pulling her up and pinning her back against the wall. He draws a dagger from his side and presses it into her throat. Not hard enough to cause any damage, but just enough to draw blood. The girl squirms but remains silent. I draw my own blade and I watch Vincent get his axe at the ready next to me. The girl looks from Vincent to myself and then back to Gabriel, her captor, and then closes her eyes.
"Any last requests?" Gabriel sneers Careerishly, with the sort of mock bravado that the Capitol expects and the outer districts loathe. For a moment there's no response from the girl, until she works up a ball of phlegm in her mouth and spits in Gabriel's face. For a moment, the boy from One flinches backwards, and then I watch his face redden in anger as he drives his blade through the girl's throat. There's a sudden crack as her neck snaps and her head bows forward, her chin resting on the blade. Then Gabriel pulls away his weapon and the girl collapses to the floor on her face, dead.
We only have to wait five seconds to hear the cannon for confirmation.
Thirteen down already. These Games will be over before I know it.
Vincent kneels down to check the girl's body for anything important - weapons, supplies, food. There's nothing.
"Wonder why she wasn't carrying anything," Gabriel says.
"I remember her leaving the cornucopia earlier with her district partner," I say, trying to think back to the events of the morning. "Maybe she hadn't strayed far from him."
"Maybe," Vincent ponders. "Or maybe he abandoned her, and she was left with nothing."
"Oh, what does it matter?" Gabriel says tiredly. "She's dead now, so who cares how she came to be here? We should move out now, so that the Gamemakers can collect the body."
"All right," Vincent sighs. "Let's keep going."
We decide to continue down the path that the girl from Five set us on, and for fifteen minutes we don't reach an intersection, which leads me to believe that the girl we killed was on her own at the clearing. Somewhere out there, the boy from Five is surviving alone, with at least a few precious supplies. It'd be hard to keep going in this arena without them. Harder than in most other years, at least.
Luckily, the path we now find ourselves on is less rugged than the one we had travelled down before the death recap, and progress is swift. Where we are heading to, I couldn't tell you, but at least we're going somewhere.
It must be a couple of hours after the confrontation with the girl from District 5 when the three of us arrive at the end of a tunnel, only this time we're still underground. We've reached a large, open cavern, with rocky ceilings stretching twenty or thirty feet above us in a dome. The whole area is almost pitch-black; only when Vincent and Gabriel shine their torches can we see the far wall of the cavern, made of a stone as black as obsidian. Thinking about it, that might just be what it's made of.
The only other light in the room comes from a small, circular hole in the roof, where the dim moonlight is shining down and illuminating a small rocky outcrop in the centre of the room, near-circular and possibly three metres wide at most. Embedded into a rocky plinth in the centre of the room is a blade, that of a sword similar to Gabriel's.
The sword in the stone.
Shining our torches down at the floor in front of us, we are able to see that the floor stops abruptly barely three metres from the archway where the tunnel meets the cavern, just a metre from where we stand. Beyond that - and indeed in all directions within the cavern - lies water, as clear and black as night. Thirty metres of the stuff between us and another weapon - my favoured weapon, of which we need another.
It takes me less than a couple of seconds upon scanning the room to decide what I need to do.
"Look after my things," I tell my allies, dropping both my machete and my backpack on the ground beside me and diving into the water before they can say a word. I am the one from District 4, after all.
I immediately realise that I've made a mistake.
The water all around me feels wrong.
I'm sitting too low in the water, struggling to keep my head above ground as the floor instantly drops off and I'm out of my depth. The water feels cold and oily against my skin, as though it's not actually water but some engineered chemical. Without a torch, I have next to no visibility. The water looks as black as tar, and only the faintest slimmer of moonlight is my guide as I struggle towards the outcrop in the centre of the cavern.
I've barely taken three laboured strokes when I notice that something more serious is amiss here. Not only does the water feel cold but it leaves me numb, as though all the energy has been sapped from my body wherever I come into contact with it. I first noticed it in my hands and on my cheeks as they were bare, but my sky blue jumpsuit has offered me next to no resistance and by the time I'm two thirds of the way through the water my legs feel as leaden as my fingers.
I have to get out of here, and fast.
I don't know what's going on, but I'm certain that this is the work of the Gamemakers. I can feel my muscles freezing up, giving in, the water pouring a round my head, the head that I can barely keep above the surface. A cold, unbearable pain sears across my chest and I feel as though my windpipe is closing up inside me. As though the very air around me is sapping all of my strength, reducing my body's will to survive.
I don't know how long it takes or quite how I manage it among the cold waters, but somehow I manage to find a way to the edge of the rocky outcrop, and even more miraculously I find myself able to pull myself up onto a flat ledge at the base of the outcrop. I roll myself over onto my back and lie there staring at the black ceiling for a few moments, regaining my breath. It hurts, a lot at first but then less so, as my inner organs come back to me. I can hear Vincent and Gabriel calling out to me from across the water, training their bright torches on me, but I don't have the energy in me to answer them. Instead, I weakly lift me right arm and offer the closest thing that I can to a wave, which seems to satisfy them for now.
I must spend twenty minutes on my back on the ledge, slowly recuperating as I look up at the sword glimmering just out of my reach. Slowly I turn over to sit up on my knees, one arm reaching out for the weapon. Even working my way into a seated position drains me. As I do so, I watch the liquid that still lingered on my body flow away in tiny black droplets, leaving my body bone dry underneath. I've never seen anything like it in all my life. Now I'm completely certain that it wasn't water that I've just swam through.
As I reach out to find the sword, I realise that it takes all of my effort just to rest one hand on the hilt. Whatever it was that I've just been through, it's completely drained me of all my energy. My very bones hurt, there's some sort of pain in my chest that means I'm still having difficulty breathing, and I'm getting more and more tired every minute, as though it is taking all of my concentration to keep my eyes open. My body knows that it needs time to rest, but I can't afford to; not out here on a rocky outcrop in the middle of a dark and dangerous cavern.
Somehow I manage to turn myself over and try to use the sword as support to get to my feet, but I'm surprised to find that it sits loosely within a slot in the ground. From my original vantage point where my allies and I first entered the cavern (and where my allies still stand, providing the majority of the light that I am dependent upon with their torches), I had expected the sword to have been driven hard into the ground, so that it would take all my force to retrieve the weapon. However, as I use it to shakily get to my feet (I'm having trouble even supporting my body weight), I can see that it rests loosely within a slot in the ground, so that the only force I will need is enough to handle the weight of the weapon.
However, in my current, drained condition after my recent swim, even lifting what at most weighs five or ten kilograms is an immense effort, and one that I have to steel myself to do. Over the course of a few minutes, I slowly work the sword into a position where I'm able to force the weapon to a better, lower angle. That way, I can lever the thing out rather than lift it. Still, with no progress five minutes later and no signs of my energy returning, I sit back, defeated.
That's when I hear the splash behind me.
"Vincent!" Gabriel calls out, stunned, and I suddenly realise what's going on. A minute later and two hands appear on the edge of the rocky outcrop, and I do all I can (which really isn't much) to heave a spluttering Vincent ashore. At first he seems to have fared even worse from the effects of the water that I did, but he either recovers faster or has more determination than me, as he's on his feet next to me in just a couple of minutes.
"Thought you looked like you needed a little help," Vincent wheezes at me, his voice barely above the whisper. I presume he's just more determined to fight the effects of the liquid than I am. Still, I just smile and gesture towards the sword by means of an answer, having not the energy to speak aloud. I wrap both mmy hands around the hilt once more and Vincent puts his hands around mine, leaning over my shoulders to help me pull.
"One... Two... Three!"
Together, and with all our might, we slowly manage to ease the sword from its resting place, sliding it out of the slot on the ground. I smile as I see its tip for the first time, but can't savour the moment for long as I feel Vincent collapse behind me, becoming a dead weight on my shoulder. I know it's going to drain all that I have left to hold him up, if only just for a few seconds. It takes less than ten seconds until I feel my knees give way.
I just have enough sense left to push the sword from beneath us as I collapse into unconsciousness.
A/N: If you enjoyed this chapter, please review! As ever, constructive criticism is welcomed :)
P.S. I hope to have another chapter posted this weekend :)